Clinton Visit to Turkey May Raise Stakes Against Syria
August 12, 2012 • 10:20PM

Following her meeting with the beleaguered Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Istanbul Saturday after an 11-day tour through Africa, said Washington and Ankara should develop detailed operational planning on ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad. "Our intelligence services, our military have very important responsibilities and roles to play so we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that," she said.

When asked about options such as imposing a no-fly zone over rebel-held territory, Clinton said these were possibilities she and Davutoglu had agreed "need greater in-depth analysis," while indicating that no decisions were necessarily imminent. "It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions, but you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning," she said.

Neither Clinton nor Davuoglu mentioned the increasing presence of various terrorists fighting against the Syrian troops. However, that is no longer a secret. The Journal of Turkish Weekly reported on Aug. 10 the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Daniel Benjamin, telling reporters recently: "There is a larger group of foreign fighters ... who are either in or headed to Syria." And an AP wire Aug. 11 reports that U.S. intelligence officials specifically identify Al-Qaeda as building a network of well-organized cells in Syria, with at least a couple hundred operating.

One likely reason why Clinton did not talk about this in Istanbul is that the U.S. has little control over these terrorists. Brookings Institute's Bruce Riedel said such U.S. pronouncements are having limited effect. "Clinton is going to tell them 'clean up your act or we can't help you,'" said Riedel, a former adviser to the Obama White House. "The rebels are saying, 'You aren't helping us anyway.'" The extremists "come with weapons and money," said Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defense University and a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. Their weapons include mortars, anti-tank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, many left over from old Iraqi army stockpiles, he said. They have cash thanks to donations from hardline sympathizers throughout the region who see Assad's crackdown as an attack on Syria's Sunni majority.

Some of the hardline sympathizers Jouejati talked about will be attending the Arab foreign ministers' meeting on Sunday Aug. 12 in Jeddah to discuss developments in Syria and select a replacement for Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy, Egyptian state TV said on Aug. 11. The meeting comes before Muslim leaders meet in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday Aug. 14 for an Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit.